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Disrupting apathy and injustice: Sister Tracey Horan and World Meeting of Popular Movements

Indiana delegation to the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements. The group includes members of grassroots movements, organizers and people in church leadership from the Indianapolis Archdiocese and the Diocese of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Sister Tracey Horan is at front left.

“Now, we must all become disruptors.” Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego addressed a crowd of nearly 600 clergy, women religious, and grassroots activists at the first regional meeting of the World Meeting of Popular Movements. Bishop McElroy called on them to disrupt apathy and injustice, racism and rejection of the stranger. He called on them to disrupt the systems that break up families and leave people without adequate food, housing, water or medical care.

In February, Sister of Providence Tracey Horan spent four days in Modesto, California, at this regional meeting.

In her ministry as a community organizer at the Indianapolis Congregation Action Network (IndyCAN), Sister Tracey is part of the faith-based grassroots movement for justice highlighted there. She serves as a bilingual organizer and works to develop leadership for positive change among low- and moderate-income people of faith throughout Central Indiana.

At the meeting, participants took themes from previous meetings: land, work and housing. They added regionally-specific concerns: racism and migration. Participants learned and engaged on a deeper level with these and other world issues.

A major part of the event, and of Sister Tracey’s daily ministry, is promoting what Pope Francis calls the “culture of encounter.” The event used small groups and informal time to allow for this encounter.

Leaders of IndyCAN, where Sister Tracey Horan, bottom left, ministers, attend a rally at the Indianapolis airport where people were being detained during the travel ban on people from several Muslim-majority nations.

“In our first small group we did some one-on-one work on sharing our stories, what gets our skin in the game,” Sister Tracey said. “To even start these conversations [about the issues], we have to be firmly rooted in why we’re here and our personal realities.”

Sister Tracey makes relationship-building a priority in her daily ministry, spending about half of her time in one-on-one meetings. “In the world of relational organizing,” she said, “encounter is where it all begins. So every time we have a training, every time I do house visits or meet with a small group, it always starts with the Why? Why are we here? I think that’s something that’s really unique about what we do at IndyCAN.”

Divisions allow inequality

Working together is also important. “When we’re all broken up into our silos,” she said, speaking of the tendency to focus on specific issues or specific communities impacted by an issue, “there’s a big part of the movement that’s missing.” She pointed to the words of Rev. Traci Blackmon at the gathering. She said we have to care as much about Standing Rock as we do about Ferguson. That division in the movement just allows inequality to increase. As our scriptures tell us, we are one body in Christ.

Sisters of Providence Marikay Duffy, Therese Whitsett and Tracey Horan join in a calling campaign at St. Philip Neri Catholic Church. They and other volunteers were calling voters before the election to gain
support for a transit referendum to improve access to jobs, education and
services in Indianapolis, where currently only 30 percent of jobs are accessible within a 90-minute commute on public transit.

When the call for delegations to the meeting went out, Sister Tracey said it was clear that the organizers were looking for “protagonistas,” or “protagonists.” For those directly impacted by the issues being discussed and active in the struggle to address these issues.

Someone new

Cardinal Joseph Tobin addressed the group in a recorded speech. “As popular movements your role is to knit together strong communal networks that can gather up the experiences and suffering and aspirations of the people and push for structural changes that affirm the dignity and value of every child of God. And your role is also to call us in the Church to walk with you on your journey, to ‘accompany’ you as the Holy Father likes to say, like Jesus on the Road to Emmaus,” he said.

His next words, Sister Tracey said, spoke to her heart and to her call to ministry in community organizing. “And at times I and my brother bishops, and faithful clergy and women religious, must even walk out in front of you, to show that we are not afraid, either.”

“This is not a moment for us to stay on the sidelines,” Sister Tracey said. “The gospel calls us to step up. And the fact that he included women religious – I felt like he spoke to me personally.”

So how can each of us strive to answer the call to accompany others? Sister Tracey suggests encounter.

“I think for people to take initial steps to being in relationship with people who are different from them is the simplest way for people to start. And the most important way.” Whether it’s a coworker or someone you encounter out in public, what can you do today to encounter someone new?

(Originally published in the Summer 2017 issue of HOPE magazine.)

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Sister Emily TeKolste

Sister Emily TeKolste is in formation with the Sisters of Providence. She is a native of Indianapolis and has a degree in sociology from Xavier University in Cincinnati. Emily is passionate about justice with special interest in environmentalism and sustainability. You can follow her blog at solongstatusquoblog.wordpress.com. She currently ministers with the NETWORK lobby for Catholic social justice.

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